Proposed Indonesian broadcasting law could stifle press freedom more: Experts

Police and military forces, as well as corporate interests, are already significant threats to journalists, according to media rights groups.
Ami Afriatni and Arie Firdaus
Proposed Indonesian broadcasting law could stifle press freedom more: Experts President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo interacts with the media crew ahead of the G20 Leadership Summit in Nusa Dua, Bali, Indonesia, Nov. 14, 2022.
Willy Kurniawan/Reuters

Journalists and media experts warn that a draft bill on broadcasting under discussion in the Indonesian parliament could stifle press freedom and censor critical reporting. 

In a country where a free press remains under threat despite improvements since 1998 when authoritarian rule ended, the provisions of the draft broadcast bill restrict content on a wide swath of subjects and smother free speech further, critics say.

And a new government from October headed by Prabowo Subianto, a former general who used to support authoritarian rule, does not inspire confidence about the future for independent media among civil rights and media freedom activists.

The draft bill, intended to replace a law from 2002, proposes restricting content related to “exclusive investigative journalism,” alcohol, the portrayal of “professions or figures with negative lifestyles,” and homosexual and transgender behaviors.

This would be in line with so-called broadcast content standards that the Indonesian Broadcasting Commission’s (KPI) would establish, according to a copy of the draft bill obtained by BenarNews.

Investigative journalism “is the crown jewel of journalism,” said Yadi Hendriana, chairman of the complaints and ethics enforcement commission at the Press Council. 

“Investigative work provides the color and spirit of journalism because it uncovers new facts through field research. If that is prohibited, it undermines the essence of the press,” he told BenarNews. Besides, the bill does not define the term “exclusive investigative journalism.” 

Bayu Wardhana, secretary general of Alliance of Independent Journalists (AJI), meanwhile, said the bill also violates human rights. He severely criticized a clause that requires broadcasters to conform to traditional sexual orientations. 

“This bill is fraught with issues; it presents problems for journalism, human rights, and media independence,” he told BenarNews.

For instance, the bill mandates that the KPI seek approval from parliament when formulating broadcasting guidelines, a move Bayu believes undermines the body’s independence. 

“The KPI is an independent entity and should not be obligated to consult with the House of Representatives,” he said.

The bill’s drafting process was not transparent and did not involve media organizations, Bayu said.

Already, despite recent amendments to an electronic information law, troublesome provisions on defamation could be used to stifle dissent and critical media reportage, media observers said.

‘Ally in the pursuit of justice’

For any violations of the proposed provisions, the bill prescribes a range of punitive measures including a reduction in the duration of broadcasts, and in some cases, a complete halt to transmissions. There could also be financial sanctions and the possibility of withdrawing broadcasting licenses for more severe violations.

Some lawmakers maintain that the proposed broadcasting law is not intended to curb press freedom.

Tubagus Hasanuddin, an MP, expressed concerns over the influence of investigative journalism, especially its ability to shape public opinion and potentially disrupt the legal processes of active law enforcement investigations.

“Journalistic activities must not intrude on matters under investigation. The particulars of police inquiries are confidential,” he told BenarNews.

“News arising from anonymous sources might jeopardize current investigations. This is unfavorable. So, it is essential for the KPI to implement strict rules to oversee and regulate this matter,” he added.

Some government quarters, though, have questioned the proposed restrictions on investigative journalism.

Budi Arie Setiadi, the country’s communication and information technology minister, said journalism needed to evolve.

“Journalism must be investigative. How can it be banned?” the state-run Antara news agency quoted him as saying on Tuesday.

Ketut Sumedana, spokesman for the attorney general’s office, said investigative journalism was a valuable ally in the pursuit of justice. This could be in reporting about cases of cracking down on high-level corruption to state complicity in human rights violations.

Indonesia doesn’t fare well in the international markers in these areas. 

The 2023 report from press freedom watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) ranks Indonesia 108 out of 180 countries, citing government crackdowns on critics and violence against journalists. The country ranks 115th out of 180 nations in the 2023 Corruption Perceptions Index compiled by Transparency International.

“We collaborate with the media to supervise the development of government projects and the enforcement of laws,” Sumedana told BenarNews.

“The role of investigative journalism is crucial for us, aiding everything from the initial revelation of cases to the collection of evidence and the recovery of assets.”


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